Return of the Griveous Angels: Sid Griffin on The Long Ryders

Alt-country progenitors and Paisley pioneers the Long Ryders recently dropped their first new album in 33 years, Psychedelic Country Soul. It’s a triumphant return to form and their finest effort to date.

The Long Ryders (formed in 1981 in Los Angeles) are often cited as the missing link between Gram Parsons and punk rock. They were closely connected with the ’80s Paisley Underground scene (the Bangles, the Dream Syndicate, the Rain Parade), and widely considered as one of the forerunners of the alt-country genre. With their full-length albums Native Sons (1984), State of Our Union (1985) and Two Fisted Tales (1987), the Ryders became critical darlings with a dedicated following — especially in Europe. The band decided to call it quits just as U2 asked them to open for them on the U.S. wing of their Joshua Tree tour. But now, more than 30 years later, The Long Ryders are finally back.

I spoke with frontman Sid Griffin about the album they always wanted to make, recording in Dr. Dre’s studio and the Paisley Underground scene. Plus, he graciously shares the story of the fabulous the Long Ryders — album by album.

***

How did you approach the songwriting and the recording process this time around?

Due to the Internet, we were able to demo all our song ideas and send them to each other. This proved crucial, as no one in the Long Ryders lives anywhere near another Long Ryder. Greg lives in Los Angeles, Tom lives east of Chicago, Stephen lives in Virginia on the East Coast and I live in Europe. So the Internet allowed us to learn the songs we decided to record long before we saw each other face to face.

We met in L.A. and had two days of rehearsals. Producer Ed Stasium wanted three rehearsals, but there simply was not time. In fact, Larry Chatman promised us seven free days in Dr. Dre’s studio and on the Wednesday I knew we were not going to finish in time, so I went to Larry’s office behind the band’s back and begged for an eighth free day. Which Larry graciously gave us.

The Long Ryders recorded as live as possible with everyone looking at everyone else in the big room at Dr. Dre’s studio. The Foo Fighters had been in there a few weeks earlier due to a malfunction at the studio at Dave Grohl’s house. It is a great sounding room and Dre’s engineer, Lola, was a big help, too.

There were some percussion overdubs at Ed’s home studio near San Diego by Greg Sowders, and Stephen overdubbed some keyboards in Virginia, but that was it. Ed mixed it at his home studio and BANG! The Long Ryders were back in the game.

Did you feel any kind of pressure making a comeback album like that?

No. Why would we feel pressure? I told the guys before we started recording, ‘If this album sucks, we do not put it out… simple as that.’  And the guys agreed with me. We also figured if we only cut half a good album we would put out an EP and if we only cut two or three good songs we would put out an Internet single or a Record Store Day single on vinyl and that would be that. So by knowing we were not going to release lousy or even mediocre product, we left with no real pressure on us at all.

You’ve said that this is the album ‘you’ve always wanted to make.’ What were you looking for in the first place?

The Long Ryders wanted Psychedelic Country Soul to reflect who we were, who we are now and how we got there. Hence Stephen McCarthy coming up with such a marvelously appropriate album title. What you read on the outside of the package is what you get inside the package with our music, dig?

And somehow this new album represents us, top to bottom, more accurately than any of our previous albums. One might think Native Sons is the definitive Long Ryders album, but this one is. It’s got it all: rough and ready rockers, two bittersweet ballads, some crazy, totally out-there psychedelia, country riffs, bluesy riffs, heartfelt vocals. It even has my dear friend Kerenza Peacock from the Coal Porters on violin sweetly sawing away and our old gal pals Debbi and Vicki Peterson from the Bangles adding the most ice-cool harmonies this side of the Beach Boys.

What more could a Long Ryder want?

Except being just a bit older and wiser, what has changed the most being in the music industry today?

The Long Ryders have seen the music industry change a great deal. We have noticed the consumer always, always, always goes for the ease of musical delivery and not the best sound quality. So Neil Young’s Pono and also WAV files are not that big a deal to the majority of listeners.

And while vinyl is on the rise, it and CDs or indeed any hard copy format will never again see the huge sales of the past. Not when a consumer can tap a few buttons and hear the music in seconds. Therefore most people have long dismissed going to a store to buy physical product, and that is a shame as record shops were such temples of community and bohemianism and fun.

A number of bands from the 1980s L.A. scene, also known as the Paisley Underground scene, have recently reunited and released new material. How did you relate to the term Paisley Underground back in the days?

Michael Quercio [of the Three O’Clock] coined the phrase ‘Paisley Underground’ in an interview with The L.A. Weekly back in the day, no one in the press thought of it. The real Paisley Underground is and always was the Salvation Army who became the Three O’Clock and of course the Rain Parade, the Bangles and the Dream Syndicate. No one else. You will note these are the exact four bands who are included on the recent Yep Roc album of Paisley Underground bands doing other Paisley Underground bands’ material.

Then the Long Ryders and Green on Red were included, which was nice. After all, we were all friends, we all knew each other, we all attended the other band’s gigs, and played music that was at least vaguely related to the other acts’ music. As time went on, True West, way up in Davis, California, were added to the Paisley Underground and Naked Prey out in Arizona were added to the Paisley Underground and then half of the 1960s-oriented guitar bands in southern California were Paisley Underground bands! It was really out of hand.

The camaraderie of the original four P.U. bands was diluted and then diluted further. Bands were called members of the Paisley Underground and none of us in L.A. knew who on earth they were.

So, originally, it was just the four bands I mentioned above and no one else. And yes, it was a real, organic thing and not some baloney created by the media. To this day, to this second, I am fond of all the bands above, very happy to be friends with them, and very aware how lucky I was to not merely be in a popular band but part of a popular, groundbreaking scene. One almost, I say almost, as influential as Memphis in 1954, Liverpool in 1963 or New York City in 1977. It was a wonderful time.

The Long Ryders - Press Photo 2016-2-kopi

How would you describe the 2019 live version of the Long Ryders?

Technically, we are better than ever. I am as serious as a heart attack here when I say this. Stephen McCarthy on guitar is a genius player. I was there when Chris Hillman told Stephen he was the only guitarist he ever heard who played Clarence White’s riffs correctly! Tom Stevens is a brilliant bass player, the best bass player of my age group, the equal of Mike Mills. Greg Sowders on drums and me on whatever are audibly better players today than we were then.

Our playing and singing is better than ever, as is our songwriting, and you hear evidence of this on the new album, Psychedelic Country Soul. The Long Ryders remind me of a prizefighter making a very successful comeback. Oh, sure, the youthful dash and verve are long gone, true, but the technical know-how and cunning thinking that experience has blessed us with are present in great abundance.

I feel like we are only getting started!

And on that promising note, we will let Mr. Griffin guide you through their marvelous recording history, album by album.

10-5-60
(PVC 1983)

This five-song EP came out in late 1983 and brought the Long Ryders immediate notice. Its success at college radio made us a band to watch and one that was considered influential right from the start.

The stark front cover caused heads to turn at The Gavin Report and Billboard, as the Long Ryders looked so unlike the synth-pop acts of the era. And our music was updated 1960s guitar rock & roll, with ‘roll’ as important as ‘rock,’ all due to the sweet production of Brian Wilson’s 1970s engineer Earle Mankey.

The pounding title track, the psychedelically mesmerizing melody of ‘And She Rides,’ and the Lovin’ Spoonful styled whimsy of ‘Born to Believe in You’ set out the parameters for the Long Ryders straight away. Yet it was Stephen McCarthy’s ‘You Don’t Know What’s Right, You Don’t Know What’s Wrong’ that became a signature song and a signpost pointing to Americana and alt-country, two phrases that did not exist in 1983 and that were not yet a musical genre on radio or in print.

Native Sons
(Frontier 1984)

In summer 1984, Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. The public was warned frequently about traffic gridlock. The Long Ryders found out A&M Studios was available at a rock-bottom rate, as there was concern no act would want to record during the tourist invasion of the summer Olympics.

Choosing the legendary Henry Lewy as producer (Joni Mitchell, the Flying Burrito Brothers, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen), we moved into A&M Studios before Herb Alpert had time to deposit our check and started work. Psychedelia was toned down save the atmospheric ‘Close to the Light’ and country, bluegrass and Sun Records rock & roll was emphasized. ‘I Had a Dream’ made a great, great single in Europe and Elvis Costello signed us to his Demon label in London.

We were becoming an American answer to Rockpile, and soon Native Sons was the #4 album on the College Radio/Indie charts. Back then, this meant radio airplay, record sales and positive reviews in every newspaper in the country.

State of Our Union
(Island 1985)

Our March/April 1985 tour of Europe saw us greeted like Caesars returning to Rome after foreign conquest. We holed up in London’s Columbia Hotel as label after label visited us, each anxious to sign us and put us at the top of the charts. We went with Island Records’ London office as the great Nick Stewart, the man who signed U2, had the best rap.

We recorded in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire, with Will Birch at the controls and Neill King engineering, both experienced music industry veterans. A cook was on hand to feed us our culinary requests and a large keg of beer was placed at our disposal. The recording went well, but mixing proved a chore with the first mix having hit technical difficulties. The album was remixed at R.G. Jones in south London by Neill King, Will Birch and I, the band having flown home as scheduled. Yet from this worrisome hassle emerged ‘Looking for Lewis and Clark,’ our pulsating signature song.

Two Fisted Tales
(Island 1987)

Back to A&M Studios in Hollywood, which was Charlie Chaplin’s old studio in the 1930s. Our producer was Ed Stasium (the Ramones, the Smithereens, Jeff Healey Band) and he crafted a radio-friendly record that did not sacrifice our Americana/alt-country principles one iota. Ed drilled us and rehearsed us like the U.S. Marine Corps, even down to deciding kick drum patterns. It was terribly exciting. I thought we were going to be the next R.E.M. by Christmas.

We were now with Island Records USA and those Noo Yawkers were thrilled when they heard what we had cut. NRBQ’s ‘I Want You Bad’ was the lead-off single with ‘Gunslinger Man’ a powerful follow-up release. Two Fisted Tales contains more Long Ryders songs that were covered by other acts than any other record we made. We were indie rock stars and Hollywood heroes in our L.A. neighborhoods. Life was sweet.

Psychedelic Country Soul
(Cherry Red 2019)

After thirty-three and 1/3 years (!) the Long Ryders returned with a brand new studio album, an album most fans are calling our very best one. On our last tour in 1987, we befriended Larry Chatman, a dear pal, and Larry never forgot it. Flash forward 30 years and Larry is now Dr. Dre’s main man. Larry offers us a week’s free studio time at Dre’s in L.A. as repayment for our helping him 30 years earlier. We immediately accept this extraordinarily kind offer.

Exchanging demos via the Internet, we decide which songs to record. Ed Stasium is back in the producer’s chair and the sound, the feel, the vibe of the record is largely down to him. We worked 16-hour days and accepted no visitors to the studio. It was time to live up to whatever legend had grown up around us in three decades, the Founding Fathers Of Alt-Country and so forth.

Vicki and Debbi Peterson from the Bangles sang on several songs. My dear friend Kerenza Peacock played violin like the world class virtuoso she is indeed. Featuring our best songs, each specifically written for this project, everyone brought their ‘A’ game. Psychedelic Country Soul is our best written album, our best sung album, our most thought-out album, and I think our best sounding album in pure sonic terms. It hit #1 in the UK’s Official Alt-Country/Americana chart shortly after its release.

I am very proud of it and very proud of the guys in this band.

Reklamer

The Year in Music 2018

Songs of the Year 2018

Full Experience

10 Great Ones

FIDLAR: Too Real

Dawn Landes: Traveling

Sudan Archives: Nont For Sale

Courtney Barnett: Need a Little Time

Buddy: Trouble on Central

Chastity: Children

AJ Tracey: Doing It

Amanda Shires: Parking Lot Pirouette

Childish Gambino: This is America

Brandi Carlile: The Joke

Albums of the Year – top 10:

Turnstile: Time & Space
(Roadrunner)

Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile
(Impulse!)

Kacey Musgraves: Golden Hour
(MCA Nashville)

Brandi Carlile: By The Way, I Forgive You
(Elektra)

Low: Double Negative
(Sub Pop)

Pusha T: DAYTONA
(G.O.O.D. Music/Def Jam)

Rosalía: El Mal Querer
(Sony)

IDLES: Joy As An Act Of Resistance
(Partisan)

Jon Hopkins: Singularity
(Domino)

Janelle Monae: Dirty Computer

≈≈≈Bubbling Below≈≈≈

Khruangbin

Khruangbin: Con Todo El Mundo
Rolling Blackout Coastal Fever: Hope Downs
Parquet Courts: Wide Awake
Lucy Dacus: Historian
Nothing: Dance on the Blacktop
John Prine: The Tree of Forgiveness
Tony Molina: Kill the Lights
Kali Uchis: Isolation
DJ Koze: Knock Knock
Caitlyn Smith: Starfire

Amanda Shires

Amanda Shire: To the Sunset
U.S. Girls: In Poem Unlimited
Tribulation: Down Below
The Decemberists: I’ll Be Your Girl
Noname: Room 25
Shame: Songs of Praise
Natalie Prass: The Future and the Past
Ben Howard: Noonday Dream
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams: Vanished Gardens
Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel

Fatoumata Diawara

A$ap Rocky: TESTING
Fatoumata Diawara: Fenfo
Mary Gauthier: Rifles & Rosary Beads
Car Seat Headrest: Twin Fantasy (Face to Face)
Kamasi Washington: Heaven and Earth
Ruby Boots: Don’t Talk About It
Ought: Room Inside the World
Ambrose Akinmusire: Origami Harvest
Vince Staples: FM!
Park Jiha: Communion

Amgala Temple

Mitski: Be the Cowboy
Cardi B: Invasion of Privacy
Jonathan Wilson: Rare Birds
Amgala Temple: Invisible Airships
Superchunk: What a Time to Be Alive
Frøkedal: How We Made It
George FitzGerald: All That Must Be
Crippled Black Phoenix: Great Escape
Ashley McBryde: Girl Going Nowhere
Ben Lamar Gay: Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun

Israel Nash

Geir Sundstøl: Brødløs
Nils Frahm: All Melody
Hop Along: Bark Your Head Off, Dog
Courtney Marie Andrews: May Your Kindness Remain
Yo La Tengo: There’s A Riot Going On
Laura Gibson: Goners
Israel Nash: Rolling On
Snail Mail: Lush
Kurt Vile: Bottle It In
King Tuff: The Other

Haley Heynderickx

Soccer Mommy: Clean
Blood Orange: Negro Swan
Father John Misty: God’s Favorite Customer
SOPHIE: Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides
Haley Heynderickx: I Need to Start a Garden
Tierra Whack: Whack World
Hailu Mergia: Lala Belu
Marie Davidson: Working Class Woman
Yves Tumor: Safe In The Hands Of Love
Alejandro Escovedo: The Crossing

Caroline Rose

The Beths: Future Me Hates Me
Møster!: States of Minds
Caroline Rose: LONER
Damagers: s/t
Boygenius: s/t
Leon Vynehall: Nothing Is Still
Hookworms: Microshift
Windhand: Eternal Return
Thou: Magus
Hot Snakes: Jericho Sirens

Jess Williamson

All Them Witches: ATW
The Internet: Hive Mind
YOB: Our Raw Heart
Cecile McLorin Salvant: The Window
Zhu: RINGOS DESERT
KEN Mode: Loved
Daniel Bachman: The Morning Star
Jess Williamson: Cosmic Wink
Sleep: The Sciences
The Nude Party: s/t

Daniel Avery: Songs For Alpha
Preoccupations: New Material
Young Fathers: Cocoa Sugar
Buddy: Harlan & Alondra
Jeff Rosenstock: -POST
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Sparkle Hard
cupcakKE: Ephorize
Anbessa Orchestra: Negestat
iceage: Beyondless
Ryley Walker: Deafman Glance

BEST REISSUES/HISTORICAL ALBUMS OF 2018

Songs: Ohia: Love & Work: The Lioness Sessions
(Secretly Canadian)

John Coltrane: Both Directions At Once: The Lost Album
(Impulse)

The Beatles: The Beatles And Esher Demos: 50th Anniversary Edition
(Apple/Universal)

Giant Sand: Returns to Valley of Rain
(Fire)

VA: Basement Beehive: The Girl Group Underground
(Numero)

Bobbie Gentry: The Girl From Chickasaw County – The Complete Capitol Masters
(Capitol)

Prince: Piano and a Microphone1983
(Warner/Rhino)

Giant Sand Returns to the Valley of Rain: A Tribute to Howe Gelb

Howe Gelb, 2018 (Photo: Gabriel Sullivan)

Returns to Valley of Rain (Fire records) is a ferocious re-recording of Giant Sand’s classic 1985 debut album Valley of Rain. Originally recorded by Howe Gelb on vocals and guitar, Winston A. Watson and Tommy Larkins sharing drums duties and Scott Garber on bass, this incarnation of Giant Sand also consists of newer members Thøger T. Lund, Gabriel Sullivan and Annie Dolan.

The album holds a special place in the vast Giant Sand catalog, celebrated by both 25th and 30th anniversary reissues in recent years. When some of these old songs started to creep back into their setlist, it seemed appropriate to give the full album another shot with the proper Fender 30 amp, made only in the early 1980s, with the intention of making the album sound like it should’ve sounded. Says Fire Records about the process: “It was re-done for $400 and the same day and a half session time as the original. Scott Garber even drove up from Austin with his fretless to play so that the album is literally the originally line up for at least half of the songs. And yes, no pedal boards were used too.”

Giant Sand have never been easy to categorize, a fool’s errand that gets harder every passing years, as Howe Gelb and his various compadres have freely embraced new and disparate stylings into their seesawing sound. But whether labeled as roots rock, gospel, piano jazz, punk, latin or lo-fi or anything in between, the music always comes out with the identifiable signature of characteristic beatnik rhythms, shrewd lyrics and Howe Gelb’s warm, charismatic personality hovering above it all.

Gelb has travelled many a long and dusty mile to get to his place of prominence as an elder statesman of freewheeling Americana and “Erosion Rock”; a brand of music changing with the elements on a daily basis as nature intended, like Giant Sand, believing that continuous evolution should be a palpable element in music, as when songs were first handed over again and again, before the frozen capture of a recording studio.

I asked a couple of Howe Gelb’s numerous colleagues and friends over the years to share some insight on the enigmatic genius. Find out why Gelb is a smart cookie, how he embrace the random and eschew the obvious and why his modus operandi is best described as inspired chaos.

***

When we met…

M. Ward (singer-songwriter, and one half of She & Him):
It’s an honor to know Howe Gelb. He was one of the first real pals and confidants I had in this strange industry. I’m endlessly inspired by his piano-playing, his songs, his energy and everything in-between.

Giant Sand took me on my first-ever tour of Europe – in which I played my first and last performances of lap steel. Howe taught me that if you polish the song too heavily in rehearsals then you have polished the song too heavily in rehearsals.

M. Ward/press

Steve Wynn (The Dream Syndicate, The Baseball Project and more):
I first met Howe just moments after playing to the biggest audience of my life. It was Roskilde 1986 and The Dream Syndicate was a last-minute fill-in for The Cult. We arrived from Italy just about 30 minutes before we went on stage to 50,000 people. It started pouring as we finished and much of the crowd dispersed which was a shame since the next band was Giant Sand and they were fantastic. I watched them as the rain poured down and was instantly intrigued. Howe and I ended up talking well into the night, both exhilarated by the excitement of the evening.

Jason Lytle (Grandaddy):
I spent the first few of my «learning to write songs» years trying to sound like Giant Sand. The only problem is… I had never even heard Giant Sand or Howe Gelb. Someone I had crossed paths with in the early 90’s told me about a weird band that lived out in the desert in Arizona and was inventing their own brand of music that was sometimes punk, sometimes folky Neil Young and sometimes Thelonius Monk… and sometimes all of them even combined.

It set my imagination on fire.

It wasn’t until years later I finally bought a Giant Sand LP and was quite relieved it was as special as it was and kind of similar to what I hoped it would sound like.

John Parish (artist, producer and frequent Giant Sand collaborator):
The first Howe Gelb/Giant Sand record I worked on was Chore of Enchantment – my part of that album was recorded in Tucson in 1998, and it was my introduction to Howe’s method of working – best described as inspired chaos.

It was the first production session I did where I realized I had no control over events – the job became recognizing the inspiration within the chaos, and then making sure it was recorded, logged – before being edited down the line.

It is a challenging but exceedingly rewarding way of working, and pretty much unique to Howe.

Peter Holsapple (The db’s, Continental Drifters):
I met Howe through my friends Mark Walton and Robert Maché with whom I played in the Continental Drifters; my other bandmates Susan Cowsill and Vicki Peterson toured with Giant Sand promoting Center of the Universe. He seemed like a sweet guy, and if he was friends with my friends, well dammit I liked him too. I recorded a little on Glum when Howe was recording at Kingsway in New Orleans with Malcolm Burn and Trina Shoemaker. It was 1994, and it took a small slice of one afternoon.

KT Tunstall (singer and songwriter)
Howe co-produced my fourth LP with me, Invisibe Empire // Crescent Moon in Wavelab Studios, Tucson, AZ in 2012. Collaborating with him was a beautiful and formative experience for me. I had never worked with an artist-producer before, and he encouraged me to be much more experimental, less rigid about process and performance, and as we were recording live to tape, everything was much more focused on feel rather than technical perfection. I think the most memorable thing was that he invited me into his world – I stayed with him and his family during the recording, we took road trips with a guitar (one particularly memorable one to the Mexican border), so every aspect of that time was colored by his daily life, which is definitely colorful!!

As a person…

Steve Wynn:
Open. He embraces new people and new things very easily. He welcomes The Random although there is a filter and an aesthetic to the pieces of the puzzle he lays out before letting the mayhem begin.

Strangely enough, the biggest influence that Howe had on my life was teaching me to actually take control. I was still the kind of artist who just blindly went from gig to gig, record to record under the control of managers and labels, not questioning or fully understanding the process and finding myself quite helpless when the cracks in the system began to appear.

Howe was living a different life – under the radar and with the sense of adventure that I remembered from the earliest days. With his help, I reconstructed my way of making music (on the fly, on the cheap), touring (hitting the places most bands don’t go) and releasing (small, hungry labels and more frequent releases). It was an eye-opener and creatively stimulating and still is my way of working to this day.

Thanks, Howe, for teaching me to embrace the random and to eschew the obvious.

M Ward:
Howe is a shaman of music who needs no setlist nor traditional groundwork to launch his ideas into meaningful spaces. I recommend sampling all of his Giant Sand records and Howe Gelb solo records and then buying them all.

He finds uniquely rare and beautiful melodies that you can’t trace to anything prior – except maybe songs from his own prior experiments or maybe Thelonious Monk’s – and that makes you think where could this music possibly have come from except for somewhere in southern Arizona.

Peter Holsapple:
Howe is a smart cookie, and one is well advised to listen carefully to what he says. We are not cut from the same songwriting cloth by any means, but I respect and admire his expansive and adventurous creative soul, and l hear the earth and air directly when I hear his songs.

Have YOU ever seen another Howe Gelb? I haven’t.

KT Tunstall
Howe is a bona fide one-off. No-one else could do Howe Gelb. He is unpredictable; he genuinely doesn’t ever play a song the same way twice. He has a phenomenal creative brain; quite surreal, mischievous, very quick. Very funny. There is always a lot of laughing spending time with him, and you don’t always know why. It’s kind of chaotic working with him, but somehow he always manages to pull off often large scale projects, it’s most suspicious. Is he a wizard?? He’a a joy to watch perform, a craftsman and a lightning quick creator, making things happen in the moment, very exciting. One of my favourite moments in his live performance was when he would sit at the grand piano and say, in an impossibly low voice, “I think this thing takes batteries”. He would then throw a handful of 9volt batteries inside the piano.

John Parish:
Original, creative, inspiring, frustrating, spontaneous, late, curious.

John Parish, Photo: Maria Mochnacz

Jason Lytle:
The person that he is …is the musician that he is. That is…. I think he sounds like the sort of guy that he is. I do like it when that happens. It means you’re usually getting the real goods when you hear what he is working on/putting out there.

Steve Wynn:
I’ve said enough above about his lack of fear in accepting unexpected pleasures, random events, changes and following whatever path seems interesting from record to record, tour to tour and even from moment to moment. But none of that would work if it wasn’t for the fact that he’s a damn good guitarist and pianist. You gotta have the goods to back up the concept or else you’re left with nothing but a hollow manifesto.

KT Tunstall
I think Howe is very stubborn in his creative choices, and that protects him and his band from becoming creatively diluted. Lyrically, his material comes from such a singular place that it couldn’t be anyone else, so his signature sound and style will always be inimitable. He also has the most amazing baritone voice, and has found a delivery syle that immediately convinces you that what he’s conveying is worth listening listening to.

A fun fact at the end…

Peter Holsapple:
Howe taught me that time is elastic. I’ve never been the same since.

KT Tunstall
Howe likes orange things. For snacks, he would hold out a carrot and a tangerine and say, “want something orange?»

John Parish:
He likes to eat lunch at Cafe Poca Cosa.

Jason Lytle:
He came to my house for coffee one morning when I lived in Portland Oregon. I asked him if he would like sugar or agave (a plant based sweetener) in his coffee. He said: «I’ll take agave». We sat outside with our coffees and he was surprised that what he was drinking was NOT coffee with a shot of tequila in it…. as he had a momentary lapse and mistook agave for some kind of tequila. I laughed …but was also impressed that he would show up at my home in the morning and be up for starting the day off with me over a coffee/tequila drink. (Sounds horrible by the way….hahaha!)

Steve Wynn:
I was living out in Marina Del Rey, California for a few years in the late 80’s. I had a mildewed little bungalow that was supposed to be destroyed at any moment (strangely enough, it’s still there to this day) so I was able to rent it cheaply while living just blocks from the beach in a neighborhood much fancier than my means. I didn’t have a car – a bike was enough in that beach community – but Howe offered me to take care of his hand-illustrated, graffitied grey Barracuda before he went on one of his lengthy tours. I loved it. Push-button transmission and everything. Only thing was that the rich neighbors didn’t agree. One morning I went to get the car and found a note under the windshield. “Please don’t park this car around here. It is an eyesore.” Ha-ha – if only they knew that the car belonged to and had been painted by an international rock star (and that it would show up as the cover art for a Leaving Trains record!)

Slagr: Dirr


Slagr: Dirr
Hubro/Grappa, 2018

Sommeren 2018 ble den varmeste og tørreste i manns minne. Den ene dagen etter den andre med tropisk hete man helst kjenner fra langt sydligere breddegrader. Eng og åker visnet bort, vannet forsvant og vi nordboere la oss til en roligere væremåte, satte arbeidsoppgavene på vent og søkte etter noe så unorsk som skygge i den dirrende luften.

Dette kunne ikke Slagr forutse da de fullførte sitt fjerde album, mens snøen fremdeles dekket landet. Dirr ble et fast lydspor til denne underlige sommeren, men den har beholdt sin relevans også inn mot kjøligere tider og vil ganske sikkert være en følgesvenn inn mot en ny vinter. Dette er musikk for alle årstider, og for mange sinnsstemninger.

Slagr er fremdeles Anne Hytta på hardingfele og Amund Sjølie Sveen på vibrafon og glassharmonika, samt cellist Katrine Schiøtt som på sømløst vis har erstattet Sigrun Eng. Dere som kjenner trioen fra tidligere utgivelser eller fra deres liggekonserter, der musikken kan nytes i en høvelig posisjon og hypnagoge tilstand, vil ikke bli overrasket over det som serveres her. Dette er ikke en trio som radikalt søker bort fra sin etablerte kontekst fra plate til plate. Deres katalog pusles heller møysommelig sammen til å danne et helt særegent bilde, der utvikling og variasjon kommer i form av ørsmå detaljer, og der låtene og platene er brikker underordnet denne helheten.

Etablerte stikkord for å beskrive det de står for er fremdeles gyldige: mediterende minimalisme, filmatisk folkemusikk, atmosfærisk avantgarde. De tilhører ikke én tradisjon, og skal heller ikke presses inn i noen fasttømret boks. Slik sett er det naturlig at deres siste plate kommer ut på den sjangerfrie kvalitetsleverandøren Hubro. Slagr er frigjort fra det åpenbare, og selv om de definitivt er jordet i noe ur-aktig og bestandig, henvender de seg vel så mye til drømmenes verden og det abstrakte.

Dette gjør de uten å lage noe i nærheten av «vanskelig» musikk. Slagr har alltid vært en ren nytelse for sjel og sinn. De komponerer særdeles vakre melodier, saktegående og dvelende, som kan nytes både i konsentrert lytting med gode hodetelefoner eller som bakgrunnsakkompagnement til den frie natur. Slagr blir liksom en naturlig del av deg og dine omgivelser.

Platen er innspilt i Sofienberg kirke, en omgivelse som passer platen. Det er høyt under taket her, en romlig klang som kommer til sin rett enten de tre spiller sammen eller står fram med solospill. I likhet med deres foregående plater er det ikke lett å trekke fram enkeltspor som skiller seg fra andre, for igjen har de laget en plate som bør spilles i sin helhet, slik at sporene høres i sammenheng.

Dirr er delt inn i 8 stykker, alle med korte navn som «aur», «eir» og «hel». Titlene angir en klar norsk og nordisk kulturarv, men musikken i seg selv beveger seg på tvers av både landegrenser og tidsepoker. Det har gått inflasjon i begrepet ‘tidløst’, men skal man først ty til det, så er Slagr den rette mottaker. Det er rart med det: Med sitt lavmælte tonespråk og minimale estetikk evner Slagr igjen å åpne ukjente dører og male store bilder, mens tankene blir til drømmer og drømmene blir til musikk.

Ween: 12 Golden Country Greats


Ween: 12 Golden Country Greats
(Elektra, 1996)

Wonderful Ween. So eclectic, so unpredictable and always great. Gene and Dean Ween (real names Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo) are to music what the Coen Brothers are for the movies; stealing and lending from a wide array of cultural references and creating something completely their own.

Ween started out in the mid 1980s and by 1996 they already had an astonishing catalog under their belt, including their major label debut Pure Guava (1992) and the formidable magnum opus Chocolate & Cheese (1994). Their previous albums were all rollercoasters of various styles and influences, but on 12 Golden Country Greats they decided to focus their sound on good ol’, classic country music, from honky tonk and countrypolitan to folk.

To do things right they even went down to Music Row and brought in a bunch of legendary Nashville session musicians and hired Ben Vaughn to produce. The final result is 10, not 12, golden country songs that are musically superb and work tremendously well beyond just being a parody of the genre by two college boys from the Eastern seaboard. Yes, their sense of humor and vulgarity aren’t for everyone, yes they fool around with all the Nashville clichés in the book, but overall 12 Golden Country Greats is one of the best country albums of the 1990s.

Featuring some of the Ween’s finest songs, including «Japanese Cowboy,» «Help Me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain» and «You Were the Fool,» it’s an album hardcore country fans will appreciate, and also an album that will turn non-believers over to the genre.

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa


Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa
(Terp, 2006)

What happens when free-minded Dutch anarcho-punks meet a 70-year-old Ethiopian jazz saxophonist? Well, in this case, pure magic; or as Terrie Ex calls it: «A tribute to the free spirit.»

The story goes that the members of The Ex were longtime fans of the Ethiopiques re-release of the 1972 album ‘The Negus of Ethiopian Sax,’ where the big sound and memorable vibrato of Getatchew Mekuria (1935-2016) caught their immediate attention. When the fabulous and open-minded punk veterans were about to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2004, they had the wild idea of inviting Mekuria to the party. So, they went down to Addis Ababa, tracked him down and explained their story. Mekuria didn’t think twice. He joined the band for his first travels outside of Ethiopia, and he was on fire! The event was a massive success, and the combo agreed to record together.

Recorded partly in the studio and partly live, a number of traditional, mainly Ethiopian, songs were rearranged by The Ex and guests, including a horn section featuring Xavier Charles (Silent Block) and Brodie West (Deep Dark United), and Mekuria flexed his sax like there was no tomorrow. Titled Moa Anbessa, the result is completely dazzling: a fiery and joyous mix of funky Ethio-jazz and sharp, authoritative post-punk vibrating with soulful energy and warmth. So much more than your average «world fusion,» this is musical exchange at its very best. ‘Moa Anbessa’ is strongly recommended for all «free spirits» out there.

Put it on, don’t resist the urge to groove, dance or sing along.

Arthur Russell: World of Echo


Arthur Russell: World of Echo
(Upside, 1986)

World of Echo, the only solo full-length album released by avant-garde cellist Arthur Russell during his way-too-short lifespan (1952-1992), is a hands-down classic piece of music, and a transcendental listening experience to boot.

Born and raised in rural Iowa, Russell moved to New York City in the early 1970s for musical education, and ultimately became a fixture in the city’s vital downtown loft circuit, and he was even appointed as musical director of the artsy hotspot The Kitchen. Highly involved in New York’s bourgeoning punk, jazz and disco scenes, Russell literally worked with everyone, was all over the place musically, and particularly made a name for himself on dance floors with his various pioneering projects (Dinosaur, Loose Joints).

World of Echo is something else entirely, mainly consisting of Russell’s bowed and percussive cello and his dreamlike, echoey vocals, with some additional electronic effects. It’s a mediative and minimalistic masterpiece, suspended outside of time and space. A bit distant or hazy at first as the songs ebb and flow in no strict particular direction, repeated listens will unveil its beauty in full. Embracing ambience and textures in favor of beats, it’s akin to equal parts Nick Drake and Philip Glass. And no matter how intimate and personal this is, it also resembles the heyday of the New York underground, the vast cornfields of Iowa, transcendental meditation and deep dub.

The echoes of this album haven’t faded at all, and still can be heard around the world in all its quiet glory.

Magnet & Paul Giovanni: The Wicker Man


Magnet & Paul Giovanni: The Wicker Man
(Trunk, 1998)
The Wicker Man is a magnificent 1973 horror movie set on a fictional remote Scottish island, and starring Christopher Lee in the unforgettable role as Lord Summerisle. He is the leader of the island, where Sgt. Howie, a devoted Christian policeman, is being lured from the mainland in search of a missing girl, just to be dragged deeper and deeper into a bizarre and mysterious world of Celtic pagan secrets.

It is a thrilling story, but the soundtrack, closely interwoven as an integral part of the film and finally resurfaced in 2002, is not only crucial to the whole experience, it functions as an astonishing album in its own right. The Wicker Man arrived amid the fruitful British folk revival, but the music was actually created by American composer Paul Giovanni and a one-off band entitled Magnet, with performances from various cast members. The story goes that the songs were written in just a couple weeks, but they manage to capture the essence of British folklore with a combination of new and traditional songs, on what turned out to be a stunning record revolving around pre-Christian mythology and traditions.

Listening to the album gives an immediate urge to put on a mask and dance around a maypole while chanting creepy nursery rhymes. Highlights include “Willow’s Song,” later remade by Sneaker Pimps and epitomized in the movie by the landlord’s seductive siren daughter (Britt Ekland), the ballad «Gently Johnny,» the child-sung «Maypole» and a chilling version of «Sumer Is Icumen In.» The movie is still disturbing and scary as hell, and the soundtrack is hypnotic, creepy and beautiful at the same time.

Make sure to watch it – not the lousy remake with Nicholas Cage – and enjoy to this spellbinding soundtrack.

The Lounge Lizards: s/t


The Lounge Lizards: s/t
(Editions EG, 1981)

The Lounge Lizards were a sharp-dressed act made up of some of the coolest cats in New York City, including filmmaker John Lurie, The Feelies drummer Anton Fier and DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay.

The eclectic (and over the years revolving) lineup reflects the music on their 1981 debut album, where downtown jazz, no-wave and alternative rock flawlessly melt together into a higher unit. They never steered away from the outskirts of the music landscape, embracing an experimental approach and adding a renewed sense of energy and joy to the jazz scene of the early 1980s. They did so with a high acknowledgment of the past and managed to head into the unknown without ever leaving the listener behind.

Mainly consisting of Lurie originals, they also found room for a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes here, an album that still sounds remarkably fresh and exciting. The cover is designed by Peter Salville, best known for his work with Factory Records artists like Joy Division and New Order, who added an extra element of coolness to the band.

Lula Côrtes E Zé Ramalho: Paêbirú


Lula Côrtes E Zé Ramalho: Paêbirú
(Solar, 1975)

The Brazilian scene in the 1960s and ’70s blessed the world with some extraordinary artists and unique music commonly known as ‘Tropicália’. Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and Tom Zé spearheaded this sizzling melting pot of traditional sounds, African rhythms, breezy pop and avant garde.

The northeastern city of Recife was a major hub for an even more psychedelic branch of the Tropicália movement, centered around musician Lula Côrtes. On his 1975 album Paêbirú Côrtes collaborated with composer Zé Ramalho and created a strange, transcendental album where pastoral folk meets psychedelic electric freak outs, richly layered with field recordings and trippy detours. This is one hazy ride where the songs weave into each other with no clear start or ending, making it an endless voyage into the unknown.

Paêbirú is literally impossible to track down on LP, but fortunately it’s available digitally. Put it on one of these blistering hot summer evenings, close your eyes and drift away into a dense jungle of mystery and magic.